Most husbands are a few years older than their wives, which, of course, brings them to the time of their retirement before their wives are ready to stop their own professional lives. Besides, the family may well have counted on her income for a while longer. This means that she will be going off to work, morning after morning, for several years after her husband has begun to enjoy his stay-at-home leisure. For some couples, this is a mixed blessing.
Many a wife has confided to her women friends that she suffers a certain sense of displacement as her husband takes over the "helm" of what she has considered her domain. Will he start reorganizing all her carefully planned systems? Will she be able to find anything once he is turned loose in the house?
She also worries whether he will be bored all day without his former job challenges. Will he feel that managing the house is "doing nothing?"
Of course, creative men have all kinds of ideas of their own as to how they will use this leisure time. Some have been eagerly awaiting the day when they might have the kitchen to themselves for culinary experiments. Several men I know have become better cooks than their wives. It is a very different experience to take over a kitchen as chef of the day than it is to do a wife's bidding as "helper."
Other men go in for gardening in a big way. One man I know developed a vegetable garden that could form the basis of a picture story for Better Homes and Gardens. He has also become the maitre d' of the kitchen. His wife is delighted to come home to a delicious meal and shows no signs of distress about his "taking over."
My own husband was 22 years older than I, so of course my career was just at its zenith when he was ready for retirement. We still had one ten-year-old and one teenager at home. My work involved my going off to New York City on a Monday morning, not to return until Friday night. Thus he had the children as well as the house to take care of. I found myself returning each week wondering what I would find.
What I did find were the happiest two children anyone could hope for, each busy with creative projects that were spread around their own rooms, the living-room floor, the dining-room table, and over and under every flat surface available. The kids were well fed on quite a bizarre diet, mostly of raw fruits, vegetables, hamburgers and ice cream. Their clothes were often untidy, but their bodies were clean and their minds were crackling with the enthusiasm for learning. They were also glad to welcome me home. What more could one ask?
Fortunately, we had a good cleaning woman with a sense of humor and many years of child-raising behind her. On Saturdays the house was once more put in order, the larder stocked, and the family ready for happy celebrations on Sundays. I can't remember there ever being any tension about our respective schedules. And the children, to this day, consider themselves lucky that they had those incredible days with their father.
Both man and wife will do well to remember that each has a special need for recognition from the other at this time.
A professional woman I knew used to say, "Every professional woman needs a wife." Now with her husband's time freed up, a working woman has the equivalent of a "wife." She needs to remember that "wives" need praise and make sure that she gives her husband generous servings of it.
A husband, on the other hand, may now have to learn what the full responsibility of managing a house is like. For years he may have "helped out," but that is a far cry from serving at the helm of the ship. He may be in for some interesting learning.
And he may have to remember how good it was when his wife just listened to him when he came home from work with professional burdens on his mind. She may now be in those shoes and need his sympathetic ears.
Looking at life from another's point of view can be fun. It can also expand one's love of one's partner.
About the author: Dr. Hamilton, a retired psychologist and sex therapist, is the author of five books and a recipient of the American Library Association award. Her television appearances include "The Phil Donahue Show," The Merv Griffin Show: and the "Tonight Show."